If you’ve ever heard the word saber in a sentence, you probably anticipated something pretty intense going on. After all, the verb “saber” means to quite literally slice or wound something with, well, a saber (also known as a cavalry sword). But, there’s actually a type of sabering that’s a whole lot more “PG” and fun, since it involves a bottle of champagne.
Sabering champagne is a time-honored party trick that dates back to the days of Napoleon Bonaparte (yep, that short French man who was a military and political leader) in the 18th century. According to George Fleck, vice president and global brand leader at St. Regis Hotels and Resorts, Madame Veuve Clicquot herself used to entertain Bonaparte’s officers at the champagne vineyard that she inherited at age 27 when her husband passed away. Each morning, when the soldiers rode away, they would saber the bottle of champagne she gave them, each trying to impress the young rich widow. The tradition continued in Europe, eventually becoming popular around the world.
“St. Regis’ history with sabrage began in 1904 when John Jacob Astor IV, founder of The St. Regis New York who later died in the Titanic, would have a bottle of champagne sabered on-property every evening to celebrate the transition from day to night,” explains Fleck. “Today, the art of sabrage remains a cherished evening ritual, with one of our St. Regis Butlers ceremoniously uncorking a bottle of champagne at dusk across our hotels globally, both as a nod to our brand’s storied heritage and as a way to bring our guests together in celebration."
Sabering a champagne bottle looks like it would require a great deal of skill and technique, but it can actually be taught rather quickly and mastered with a bit of practice. If you are planning on wowing a crowd with your champagne-sabering technique, here is an expert guide for how to do it right (and safely).
Choose Your Champagne Wisely
Aside from taste or flavor, Thomas Waters of The Renaissance in Richmond, Virginia, recommends using actual French champagne—not only for the tradition, but because the glass is typically thicker. “This reduces the risk of having the bottle shatter when you're sabering,” he says.
Prep the Bottle
As you prepare to properly saber a bottle of Champagne, Mark Moulton, wine director at The St. Regis Deer Valley suggests icing it for at least 15 minutes prior, submerging the neck of the bottle in the ice. “By icing the bottle, the glass becomes brittle and this makes for a clean break where the neck and the lip of the bottle meet,” he says. “Once thoroughly chilled, remove the bottle of Champagne from the ice and discard the foil and the cage.” While tossing the foil and cage, pay extra attention to where you point the bottle just in case it opens on its own.
Check Your "Saber"
If you don’t actually own a saber, don’t attempt this trick. “Regular household knives do not replace an actual saber, regardless of how dull the blade is,” warns Waters. “The bottle is much more likely to shatter, and you could end up seriously hurt.”
Practice Your Swing
Just as you would before you hit the golf course, Waters recommends practicing your swing pre-sabering. “Get familiar with the seam of the bottle, and do some practice motions so that you can get a feel for it,” advises Waters. “Think about knocking the bottle open rather than slicing it.”
Get Into "Saber" Position
Now, it's time to saber the champagne! First, point the bottle away from you (and everyone else) with your non-dominant hand on the base of the bottle and your dominant hand on the blade. “The thumb of your non-dominant hand should be inside the bottle's bottom indent (called the punt), and this should keep your fingers out of the way of the blade,” says Janice Carnival, owner of Bellwether Events in D.C.. “Point the cork of the bottle away from you and any other people or breakable items, and make sure no one is close enough to be hit by the blade.”
Find the Seam in the Glass
Before you officially saber, you want to locate the seam in the glass. “This is where you want to hit the lip of the bottle (called the annulus), this is where the bottle is weakest,” says Carnival. "Place the blade against the glass, angled down slightly towards the bottle's lip.”
“Using the seam as a guide, run the saber toward the lip of the bottle with vigor, following through like a golf swing,” says Moulton. “Sabering requires very little effort, so the important part is connecting at the point where the seam meets the lip. The pressure in the bottle from secondary fermentation does most of the work for you.” At this point, the bottle should break where the seam meets the lip, leaving the bottle open and ready to serve.
Test the Bubble
After you've totally impressed the crowd, Waters recommends pouring just a bit of the bubbly out into a cup to ensure there isn't any glass in the foam. “Even if you sabered the bottle successfully, there's always a chance that a few bits of glass will sneak in,” he says. Then, pour your champagne and toast!
Dispose of the Cork
Once you've successfully sabered the bottle, don't leave the cork unattended. “The cork will almost always still be attached to the ring of glass from the neck of the bottle, so if someone were to step on it or if a child found it, you have an extremely dangerous situation on your hands,” says Waters. “Dispose of the glass immediately and do so in a proper receptacle.”